‘Meet the Parents’ Today

‘Meet the Parents’ Today (self-righteous, incompetent, vengeful)

            And yet apparently possessed of ‘rights’. But the very being of a parent – that one has children – is not itself a right but rather a privilege. Not all those who desire children can have them, many lose children whom they wished to keep, and children themselves will eventually judge their parents, and some of those will vanish from the latter’s ken for whatever perceived injustice they had endured. Even so, if we do not speak of simply having children as a right, which we cannot, perhaps there is some other meaning to the desperate and disparate call to arms that self-styled parents’ groups have of late sounded? For they gird themselves against all other social institutions and even the family, of which they are generally and inordinately so proud, is seen as no longer the family anymore. For some it is the schools, for some the State, for fewer a church, this one or that, for others the ministries of child welfare, and for some it is other parents, judged lapsed and prolapsed in their moral obligations. But whatever or whomever may be the villain in the parental imagination, the lash of this lens is never turned toward themselves.

            So, I will do it for them. At once it is sage to recall that over 95% of child abuse occurs in the home, committed by persons well-known to the victim. The litany of largesse is not of specific interest, only the social fact itself. Almost all the remainder is perpetrated by coaches, teachers, trainers, and other adults who have some intimate contact and power over the child. Sports coaches are now belatedly living the infamy they deserve, at least some of them, as well as a few ‘Christian’ educators, but the vast majority of villains escape yet. The privacy of the household remains a bulwark against both investigation and prosecution, an oversize mute shoved down the very throat of any youthful horn, a bastion of iniquity that euphemizes discipline while it euthanizes childhood. In short, parents might well be by definition abusive, even if the very best of them practice only some silent symbolic force and never bellow, shame their child with ne’er a finger laid upon, or ignore their child entirely in the name of ‘progressive’ parenting. Neo-fascists and neo-communists alike, parents straight across the political spectrum upshift their pressing incompetence into a distressing defence of ‘parenthood’ in the abstract, bereft of any detailed accounting of exactly what they do or have done in the day-to-day travails of helping children attain young adulthood.

            So let us then ‘imagine’. Parents abuse officials of organized sports, they oust teachers and coaches from school programs, they get themselves elected to school boards and promptly ban books and other media, they rail against laws that protect children – for they well know against whom these laws are directed – and they seek at every turn to justify to their bad conscience, if they maintain one at all, that in doing so, they are good parents, yes they are. Parents dictate to teens long after any need of direct dependence has passed. They place limits of time, space, association, and activity upon youth, often contrary to the legal code. They crow about their ‘experience’, their ‘life wisdom’, and how ‘they used to be a teenager’ and now they know so much better. They enroll their children in summer camps after the legal age at which young people may stay by themselves, they choose at every turn the truncated lists from which only then such youth may choose, and they threaten their own children when, perhaps rarely enough, the young person demands a rationale, a reason, a right which indeed is their shared human birthright. Summarily, in the concise words of one of England’s poet laureates, ‘they fuck you up, your parents do’.

            High time to return the favour, in my opinion. For there seems to exist no publicly purveyed position of parenting that has anything to do with the child’s best interests. On the one side we witness with dismay a seething barbarism which believes in a vapid Victorian domesticity – adult women are victims of this outlook as well, though many appear to revel in it nonetheless; there are as many Juliettes out there as Justines perhaps – and more than this, far more, this side attempts to either convert or enslave the rest of us to its dreary druthers. On the other we find a patent and oblivious neglect of the most basic understanding that children do need our guidance and our skills, whatever little wisdom we might indeed possess in a world that is no longer quite our own, and of the utmost, the idea that being an adult means taking responsibility for things even when it isn’t your fault. For every fascism the controlling possessive parent exerts, there is a corresponding anti-fascism which, in its perverse sense of ‘freedom’, teaches children to think only of themselves and to be only whatever it is they fashionably imagine they are. On the one side there is a fetish for physical abuse, on the other, a reliance upon that emotional. The playground battle that exists between these two versions of parenting is not only cliché it truly is juvenile, far more so than almost anything an actual child gets up to or believes in. And these are the role models we wish to present to our children!

            Is it any wonder that social institutions other than the family have stepped in to do, well, something or other. Psychotherapy as an industry has heard the clarion call, education as a pedagogy, government as a morality; the counselor, the teacher, the politician – most of whom as well parents, we may presume – all proffering their vested interests to the by now numb and cynical youth whose future, along with our own, is ever in grave doubt due to the wider geopolitical actions of juvenile adulthood. ‘Your family made you suicidal? Here, let me fix that.’ ‘Your family can’t teach you everything you need to know, but we can.’ ‘I’ll pander to parents since they vote and you don’t, sweetheart, but you can still trust me.’ In every direction the young person looks today, she observes reality but sees evil. Where, she might ask, is the one place I can go where there are people who will love me, accept me for who I want to be, provide for me a livable future without unreasoned fear and unjustified death? Where is the place in my human heart that I was told the family occupied?

            I am rightly ashamed, as a philosopher and an ethicist, to respond with ‘I don’t know’. It cannot be an easy thing to be told, when still a teenager, that one is basically on one’s own. That is the reality, and though value-neutral in the objective sense, one as a person still has to live in it; endure the evil, savor the good when present, suffer the sorrow and enjoin the joy. The wisest thing I can say to youth today is the same thing that was said to them 2.5 millennia ago; the unexamined life is not worth living. Insofar as our world objectively promotes self-examination at every turn, all is not lost. As for myself and my wife, who are not parents, we have the somber solace of knowing that, in not being so, we remain in excellent company.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of over 55 books in ethics, education, social theory, health and aesthetics, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over twenty years.

Do You Want to Know a Secret?

Do You Want to Know a Secret? (when the individual ‘trumps’ society).

            At the beginning of his lectures on Pragmatism, William James states, rather coquettishly, that the one thing we are truly interested in with regard to another fellow human is his view of the universe; in a word, her philosophy. The outlook of institutions is, when placed beside this, a trifling matter. This is so because everyone supposedly knows where such edifices stand. Not only does their physical location attest to this position, but also do its policies, its indictments, its edicts, and its collective actions. Similarly, our cultural products and creations. A book may be read, one might say, but not so much a person. And hence the enduring interest in what the other person actually thinks about things, ideally everything. Now this does assume that the other does in fact think at all, or at least a little, from time to time. And not only does she exercise her human intellect which is our shared and universal birthright, but that they do so specifically regarding matters cosmic and profound. If it is up to the philosopher to question after the meaning of life in general, surely it is yet up to each of us to examine one’s own life for any possible or potential purpose.

            But in 1907, when James first published these legendary lectures, there was no internet, a space in which private and public are blurred to the point of being indistinguishable, there were not technologies that could, in a matter of a scant few hours, obliterate all life on earth, and there was not in existence a pressing populist sense that only the few both knew the truth, were hiding it from the rest of us, and more than either of these, were conspiring to use it for nefarious ends. Around the same time as ‘Pragmatism’, however, the very first contemporary contempt of the intellect and of that wider truth would appear in print, the so-called ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, a Czarist political tract, the contents of which were entirely fraudulent, meant to stir up Anti-Semitism in Russia, and so James’ popular lecture series at once became all the more relevant to any thinking person.

            Its relevance has not waned over the decades. When it was discovered that former president Trump had been storing a multitude of classified documents at his resort, there was an atmosphere of conspiracy in the rarified air of high office. The deeper question is of course, ‘why do such documents even exist in a democracy?’ but one searches in vain for anyone asking after this and speaking of its implications. Instead, we have a political falderal that seeks to hobble a rival’s bid of re-election, nothing more. If many fans see Trump as the fullest expression of their own angst and discontent regarding politics in particular but also authority in general, in projecting in this manner, they have perhaps unwittingly given an individual a larger-than-life persona; in another word, they have made the one into the many.

            Storing what are already institutional secrets secretly, the one has presumed to speak for the many, to safeguard their interests, to vouchsafe their collective trust. But at the same time, we may duly and reasonably inquire, are any of the contents of these myriad if secular missals truly so breathtakingly revelatory that it really matters where they are stored, and by extension, who among us happens to see them? I, for one, seriously doubt both counts. Simmel, writing at the same time as James, famously characterizes the secret as a manner in which to seal a bond between two people. It is a different thing, at least in practice, to use secrets to make intimate the trust between institutions and persons. More realistically, such a device enforces a bond that we might otherwise not ourselves have chosen. I find it almost laughably unlikely that Trump himself actually sat around and read any of these documents, filling to the brim banker’s boxes piled high in bathrooms and home theatres and the like. Aside from sheer boredom, many of these kinds of texts would be written in a highly technical manner, for ‘State secrets’ emanate from a wide variety of specialized bureaus, each with their own attendant bureaucracies in place. One would quickly tire of skimming through them, and their oh-so-important contents, presumably saving some and damning others, at least in the eyes of unelected public servants, would begin to go in one proverbial ear and out the other.

            If one protests at this juncture that all of this is beside the point, I would agree, but only if the point in question centers around the very idea of the secret in the first place. In all serious social contexts secrecy is inadmissible. It has no place in the marriage conversation, it sabotages friendship and love alike, it undermines the social contract, it sullies one’s spiritual beliefs and within such promotes the illusion of solipsism. We are quite aware that the secret should be left to childhood intrigues, where bonds which may be sealed will nonetheless be temporary and contain nothing so inflammatory that empires shall fall and Man alike. Why else would we imagine a Godhead from which one can keep no secrets at all?

            Since our ideal relationship, the one sensed as most noble and honorable the both, is one of perfect transparency – the origin of this idea in Western mythological narrative may be found in the character of the language by which the Gods themselves communicated to one another; Hermes, their messenger, spoke the Logos in such a way that no interpretation was ever required, something we humans manifestly cannot achieve – why then deliberately further depart from this condition in our merely human affairs? Trump is neither hermetic nor a hermeneut. He possesses no arcane alchemy nor does he engage in exegesis. Neither sorcerer nor philosopher, the former president is thus condemned to be a warehouse manager, not even an archivist. Beyond any of this, surely in our digital age all of these secret contents can be found any number of other places, in virtual form. Even the idea of carrying and hoarding actual paper documents seems outlandishly backdated. If there is any scandal to Trump’s actions, it is the sense that he is implying that as an individual, he may himself take on the public trust and make it private.

            But our modern State, as an institution born of, and borne on, that selfsame public trust, has, in its human minions, already committed to doing just that. Trump is a mere extension of the logic of governance and the provenience of government. And the philosophy underlying both is a narrow expression of Pragmatism. Neither idealist nor empiricist – the very use of secrecy departs from our ‘ideal’ social relations, as we have just seen, as well as obscuring a clear or ‘empirical’ view of the facts at hand, if any – a politicized pragmatism bends its sails to what the few imagine the many are feeling. If Pragmatism itself is taken to mean what C.S. Pierce, who introduced the term in 1878, meant by it; that, in a word, only our conduct matters; that the outcomes, the facts, the realities of our ideas count and the origins of such figure much less so, then we can only indict ourselves for being far too generous in our trust of the State itself.

            For the present reality we, in our shared but flawed apprenticeship of sorcery and the relative absence of any interpretive analysis of which that would elevate us beyond being mere inept pupils, have conjured, is one of faux secrets embedded in a true culture of secrecy. The latter constitutes a far more serious threat to general human freedom as well as to our imaginations – distracted and decoyed as they can be by amorphous conspiracy ‘theories’ – and to our intellects than ever does the former. Hitler was elected, Trump was elected, Putin was elected, and so on. If you want to know the secret of our political discontents, look no further than our juvenile tendency to fetishize possession and thus our desire to be the one who possesses. Trump boasted of having secrets, not keeping them. For him, and for ourselves, the secret is simply another commodity, replete with the marque of mysterious status.

            Speaking of alchemical conspiracies, the most interesting thing about the supposed ‘interviews’ of extraterrestrials to be found on the internet is their classification as secrets. There is one recorded as ‘Department of Naval Intelligence 47’; that is, a full forty-seven levels above ‘top’ secret’! We may take this more as a mark of the childhood game of secrecy, of cliques, and of the sealing of bonds amongst juvenile bands of brothers and sisters both. To any mature mind, such things are foolish at best. Pragmatically, however, they create both a sense of expectation and alienation in the outsider, a sense of propriety and entitlement amongst insiders. If the apparent content of such top of the tops secrets wasn’t itself so vacuous and irrelevant, there would be yet more serious social problems afoot. Even so, the decoy effect of such actions of our latter-day ‘Elders of Zion’ is such that it ironically, but perhaps quite purposively, makes the most glaring inequities and indeed iniquities of our contemporary social relations both at home and abroad less ideal and empirical at the same time. That which should never be secret is made more difficult to know due to the fetish of secrecy. Insofar as any of us participate in this pragmatically defined outcome, we should all be, and quite publicly so, behind bars.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of over 55 books in ethics, education, social theory, health and aesthetics, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over twenty years.

This is not about Golf

This is not about Golf

            I played golf for thirty years. Sadly, neither my back nor my budget allows me to do so today. It’s a wonderful mind game. At once you against the course and against yourself, golf epitomizes the elemental expression of consciousness and world. Not that such philosophical musings occur inside the ropes. No, there, you’re talking to the ball, to yourself, to your club, the wind, or to the motley topography at hand; ‘give it a bounce right, hard bounce, come on!’. Golf is also engrossing to watch, with the added value of admiration for a shot well played, a miraculous save, a lucky break, mixed in with the less noble emotions of a voyeuristic Schadenfreude; ‘this guy’s one of the best players in the world and he just shanked it worse than me!’. All in all, golf is both the most outwardly genteel sport and the most inwardly intense.

            So when the abrupt news of a merger amongst the three largest professional men’s tours broke, I was momentarily stunned. Aside from all of the rhetoric, for a moment, there really did seem to be an ethical difference between the PGA and the LIV, the latter being solely funded by Saudi Arabia’s public investment fund. But the idea that this difference, actual and defensible, had suddenly collapsed with the news of the merger, is incorrect. There was never quite that difference, given that in an average fiscal year, the corporations who front the PGA events do about 4.4 billion dollars worth of business with that same nation and its affiliates. And before I borrow from Carl Sagan by calling attention to the ‘B-word’, any way you slice it, that’s a lot of money.

            Which is why, even if we will now be all the more riveted by the second season’s broadcast of ‘Full Swing’, none of this is about golf. Once back outside the ropes, in fact it is about those two very elements of our experience, as primordial as they are contemporary; consciousness and world. We are dimly aware that in wealthy quarters life proceeds quite differently than in most other places. Those of us who are in possession of such privileges consider ourselves fortunate, certainly, but as well, provide for ourselves a suite of highly rationalized validations that allow us to continue to live in such a way whilst our fellow humans suffer. It is one thing not to know, and when I was a child, I did not. But it is another to be an adult and not want to know. And this is the condition that I find myself negotiating on a daily basis, whenever I have enough presence of humane conscience for it to raise its reproachful head at all.

            And contrary to the revolutionary, this is also not about capital per se. No, Marx himself was the first to state that the bourgeois mode of production, as he called it, was by far the greatest achievement of human history. This is likely why Engels and he, hypothesizing communism as an inevitable end to capital, itself proceeded simply by a change in the relations of production and not the means, which remained industrial-technical. Thus, ‘Star Trek’ communism originates in the thought of the authentic voices of the revolution; it itself is not a rationalized version thereof, but in fact the real thing. The shame of geopolitical disparity lies not so much in wealth itself, for it is often the engine for progressive change worldwide – wealth allows its holder to ‘do what thou wilt’, in classic Crowleyan fashion, and thus to slough off mere custom and with that, often antique bigotries as well – but rather in its patently pre-capitalist distribution. Wealth has replaced God, but it still owns an equally divine hand. The elites of the world, now polyglot and cosmopolitan as never before, nonetheless share that singular assignation.

            Professional athletes and all the more so, entertainers, only appear to be wealthy simply because their holdings outstrip our neighbour’s and our own by orders of magnitude. But they themselves carry no weight. They are but the window-dressing of a decoy culture that ‘manufactures’ our consent to inequity, and speaking of the Saudis – and many others, to be fair – iniquity as well. Chomsky’s political writings, repetitive as they are, bring out the more or less subtle guises of a social system that must keep its own citizenry loyal through bread and circuses, and the less bread, the more circus at that. Golf, in its role as an entertainment device, is meant to fulfill this function alone. This is why there is no real difference amongst leagues. Complaints of any specific nation engaging in ‘sportswashing’ are naïve at best, at worst, part of the very decoy that insults both consciousness and world while denying to both their respective birthrights. It is another instance among many where the canny capitalist understands the stakes and the rationales and the canned anti-capitalist does not. The minstrel mass of entertainment, with its facts of sporting ‘drama’ and attendant OCD-oriented statistics, with its fictions of mediocre melodrama and tepid allegory, is the chief means of maintaining not an otherwise unmasked mode of production as a whole but rather its ever-masked relations.

            Inasmuch as we are self-created agents of action in the world, we must come to grips with the equal condition of being historical constructions; in many cases, built for inaction, for lack of conscience, for the absence of reflective consciousness. This is not, nor ever, solely a personal fault. It is not a weakness of character, nor is it an authentic Zeitgeist. We are the bit players, without truly gifted, if trivial, skills, or the simple but all the more gifted nerve of pretense in their absence, whose role it is to witness the decoy drama unfold itself weekly. And each week I do so, cheering on my favorite golfers and mostly silently deriding those who, for whatever intolerance of my own, are to be shunned by any rational mind, whose consciousness of the world around him begins to blur and mute in the presence of the exciting action of a contrived moment which itself, in our shared contemporary culture, has replaced both grace and love.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 56 books in ethics, education, social theory, health and aesthetics, as well as fiction, and was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

In Memoriam: Ian Bairnson

In Memoriam: Ian Bairnson

                        How can you be so sure?

                        How do you know what the earth will endure?

                        How can you be so sure… that the wonders you’ve made

                        In your life will be seen, by the millions who follow

                        To gaze at the site of your dream?

                                                                         – Alan Parsons/Eric Woolfson (1978).

            Of such things none can be so confident, let alone certain. If anything, given the vicissitudes of history, rather the opposite is the case. The question of legacy animates most older persons, especially if one is diagnosed with a terminal illness and has committed, in health and as future-looking, an enduring gift to our collective cultural bastion, the only bulwark we possess over against our individually fleeting immortality. Ian Bairnson was one such bearer of cultural gifts. Arguably the most under-rated guitarist in popular music, he died after a five-year struggle with dementia, at age 69 just a few weeks ago. A list of his musical peers would have to include the likes of David Gilmour, Alex Lifeson, and Neal Schon. These names are much more recognizable due to their being band leaders or founders. But as guitarists, all are, in my opinion, severely under-rated as well. Bairnson had no flash about him. The precisely dedicated passions in his work instead bore all the hallmarks of perfection, and when I think of his playing, this is the very word that comes to mind, first and last.

            Think of the arcing solo in ‘What Goes Up…’ (1978) from which the above epigraph is taken. The seamless transition between moods, almost as if there in fact were two distinct players. This gift is revisited in the compare and contrast solo in ‘Somebody Out There’ (1984), where not merely the tone changes drastically, but also the very personality of the sound. The poignantly classical elegance throughout the ironic elegy of ‘Ammonia Avenue’ (1983). The elemental herald of the signature track ‘Sirius/Eye in the Sky’ (1982). Then there’s the soaring, wincingly beautiful bridge solo of ‘Closer to Heaven’ (1987), the impassioned fire of the flamenco-inspired guitar work in the instrumental ‘Paseo De Gracia’ (1987), the extended soloing throughout the epic suite ‘Turn of a Friendly Card’ (1980), the guttural defiance of the solo in ‘Turn it Up’ (1993), a song about resistance, even revolution. One feels more confident about staffing the barricades with Bairnson at one’s side. One feels quite clear in conscience about entering the gates of paradise with Bairnson ennobling a life with no mean soundtrack. One feels the ambiguity of one’s own selfhood, or the mystery of what has in fact ‘been lost’ to time, even though it too ‘must be found’. We do find it; in Bairnson’s music, for one.

            Though it is the case that the very best of studio musicians must master not only the diverse instrumentation of one’s featured instrument, but also a wide range of styles from classical to popular and everything in between, Bairnson must be thought of as someone who went well beyond this impressive technical competence, even mastery. In the ever-burgeoning guild of guitarists worldwide, Bairnson must be seen as someone who transported the standard of studio work not only into the theatre of live performance, where so many things can go awry and there are no retakes, but also of transcending the studio quality of such work. There is nothing calculated about Bairnson’s guitar, even though once heard in situ, no other solo, no other riff, no other comp, no other chord progression could be imagined that would suit the overall music as well. Sometimes a song requires simplicity without being simplistic, sometimes sophistication without sophistry, care bereft of pedantry, or transcendence without the pompous. Bairnson was a musician who could gift any and all of these and in force, as Alan Parsons, himself one of the most respected names in the recording industry, and arguably the most knowledgeable about its history and techniques, demanded a stunning array of emotions and characters even on a single album. And though the guitarists who have been lucky enough to follow in Bairnson’s footsteps with the band into the 21st century have walked in his shoes without ever coming close to filling them, it is perhaps testament to Bairnson’s enduring legacy that Parsons has continued to shift among very competent guitar players over the more recent years.

            I will remember Ian Bairnson (1953-2023), as an inspiring call to aesthetic conscience, a musician who came from the margins and arrived in a sense unknowing of the center whilst occupying it for a full quarter century. If dementia is itself a loosening of our ideally shared perception of the social world, if it is to be thought of as a loss of something which the rest of us must indeed find and continue to care for, the one who suffers from it remains a talisman for all of us who live on and bear the mark of the future upon us, uncertain because unknown. But it is not so much the works of the past that themselves cannot be lost to us, but rather the very essence of our resolute being that faces down that selfsame future and walks with intrepid grace towards it. These too are the calling cards of an Ian Bairnson guitar; each solo is possessed with a graceful resoluteness that is kindred with the deeper call to conscience with which a human life presents its vehicle. As such, his music attains the more profound aesthetic of being a serious commentary on the shared existence that alone, each of us is called upon to both endure and enact.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 56 books in aesthetics, ethics, education, health and social theory, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

The Lap-Dancing Drag Queen of Oz

The Lap-Dancing Drag Queen of Oz

            Reading L. Frank Baum today is like embarking on an extended acid trip. Political satire and social allegory under the guise of fantasy books for children, the Oz epic ran to 18 volumes, of which 14 were novels. Times change, so it is said, and the Wizard, however wonderful, went from being the best-selling children’s book for the years 1901 and 1902 to being universally banned by all public libraries in the United States in 1928. The chief reason for this ban, coming from the very association that is now hard pressed to keep up the fight against the hundreds of like bans being instantiated across the same nation by people who must still imagine that they themselves live a century ago, was that it was ‘ungodly’, in its portrayal of women in leadership and heroic roles.

            In hindsight, it is likely, had the Democrats run a male against Donald Trump, we would not have that specific lunacy that yet rests within popular politics at this moment. To simply say so only describes a sexism which oft verges on misogyny and is not sexist in itself. But rewind for a moment to the decade which began our social and technical modernity. The combination of women winning the national vote in 1920 and entering the workplace in droves, the new emphasis on the nuclear family and the abandonment of both that extended and the idea that young men, at least, were the de facto wage-earners in dyadic relationships must have been quite the culture shock at the time. As with today, most of the reaction against these very material shifts in society were themselves symbolic. In saying this, however, we do not say that ‘mere symbolism’ has no effect.

            If Baum’s lysergically weird trip was relatively benign – there is but one dark scene in the entire 14 volumes, and then a single dark novella in the 4 companion compendia – our current theater of identity politics seems much less so. From politicians referring to transgendered people as ‘demons’, ‘mutants’ and ‘not quite human’ to private citizens raiding, in vigilante style, drag queen shows – and, wouldn’t you know it, drag children’s story hours in public libraries – the bigotry, intolerance, and basic ignorance that could well have been widely available a century ago appears to have resurrected itself. The Scopes trial of 1925, held in Tennessee, a state which currently writhes in self-imposed political anguish – or is it neurosis? – seems as well to be a kind of resonant talisman for the neo-conservative movement. After all, creationism is taught alongside evolution in most private schools in the United States, as well as being at least present in public systems such as that of Texas, wherein over five million minors attend school. Textbook publishers kowtow to this politics simply because of market. That the pen is more powerful than the sword was never so well, if perhaps ironically, exemplified.

            Baum’s pen would no doubt have out run all available phantasmagorical ink if he were alive today. But as Al Jaffee suggested, it is more difficult to satire politics in our time simply due to the fact that politicians have outrun the satirists, ‘dreaming up things we cartoonists could never have imagined’. In America and elsewhere, politicians have become their own self-satire. The darker scene that is the outcome of what at first seemed mere theater, is that it is the lie that has been accepted as the truth of things. The Wonderful Wizard, Oscar Zoroaster Pinhead, has successfully implanted his persona as a deus ex machina into the hearts and even minds of the otherwise hard-headed citizens of the latter-day Oz. And if the ‘merely symbolic’ can take on a life of its own apart from worldly reality – one simply has to recall the woeful weight of both heaven and hell upon the faithful – all heroic deeds by men, women, or yet other genders might just be in vain.

            Baum was himself originally captivated by the theater. After an unsuccessful stab at it, he returned to it once armed with his best-selling novels. Theatrical and even film adaptations of The Wizard came early and often, culminating, long after Baum’s death, in the MGM film in 1939. But it is telling that the epic series itself has never again been so adapted after early and successful attempts in 1908 and 1910. The 1908 series has been lost though a few production stills remain. The 1910 series of three has been preserved in fragmentary form. In 1914, when Baum himself founded the Oz Film studios, the most advanced of their time, he must have had high hopes. But his offerings were box office failures, being cast as mere children’s fare and thus of no critical or dramatic value. After a scant few of the novels were scripted and shot, the studio went under the very next year.

            I am going to suggest that we too, in not taking the political theater of fantasy seriously enough, are in danger of going down with it. And though MGM itself released a number of the Oz Studio films as riders to their own famous adaptation on its 70th anniversary in 2009, it is clear that the allegorical satire of the Teddy Roosevelt empire-building era – presumably the very period that MAGA ‘if I only had a brain’ Republicans are referring to as ‘great’ – no longer has a willing audience. Or does it?

            G.V. Loewen is the author of over 55 books in ethics, education, politics, aesthetics, health and social theory, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

On Corrupting Youth

On Corrupting Youth (its what I do)

            Perhaps someone may say, But surely, Socrates, after you have left us you can spend the rest of your life in quietly minding your own business. (Plato, The Apology).

            While the age range and definition of ‘youth’ has altered over the millennia, and while its current designation surrounds a more physiological conception, that of ‘adolescence’, what has remained within this phase of life are its social stakes. Youth represent an unfinished present, an unused voucher of the future, an investment as yet uncashed. And the rest of us are joint stock holders, collective stake-holders in this investment. But what is the character of the portfolio itself? In what company do we invest, and the more so, in whose company do we thus keep?

            I am a social philosopher, by trade and by character, and as such, am a nominal member of a guild whose apical ancestor is Socrates, the smugly annoying interlocutor and critic who, on the charge of corrupting youth, was executed by the Athenian state. Now there were numerous philosophers before Socrates, usually referred to as, unimaginatively but appropriately, the ‘Pre-Socratics’. Most luminous perhaps of this clique were Heraclitus and Parmenides. But though tantalizing fragments of this the earliest period of Western thought remain, it was in Plato that we first meet the character who would revolutionize the arts and acts of thinking, That he did so with others, in dialogues for the most part, was also a first. And that he put first to test and thence to shame almost all of his conversation partners, representing as they did a great diversity of both popular and learned opinions on all matters and comers alike, underscored the advent not so much of a public personage – the official rationale for Socrates’ sentencing – but rather a way of being; that through reflective reasoning what passes for belief, value, and institution may be brought low, even entirely vanquished.

            This was the truer reason for murdering the messenger, as it were. Since one cannot kill an idea, the proponent or even the mere vehicle for such ideas is abruptly at risk. And since young people are indeed the future of society and thus as well the future arbiters of social reality as it stands upon its majority epistemological rule, any institution, especially any State, might well be suspicious of the individual who apparently seeks to disarm and even sabotage the smooth transitioning from one generation to the next. For it is not production per se that is of the highest value, even in capital, but rather reproduction.

            The status of stasis in all known human societies follows this cardinal rule. What is, is what must be, and what must be again. And though it is certainly also part of the evolutionary human character to be an innovator – at least relative to our cognitive apparatus; the toolkit, for example, of Homo Erectus remained essentially unchanged for about two million years – such inventions, improvisations, and even spontaneous actions occur by far only in the realm of the technical. Today, this for the most part constitutes the applied sciences, and with the ever-accelerating pace of technological change by itself, we cannot help but note the ever-widening gap between what humanity is capable of doing and what we are capable of being.

            This sometimes gaping disconnect between the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ was noted first by those very Pre-Socratics, when the gap was so much smaller as to be almost unnoticeable. And yet, the earliest thinkers asked a simple question, which we still can ask today: “Why am I doing this?”. This is not the same question as the inventor asks of herself, “Why am I doing this, this way?”, but rather speaks to an ontological puzzle that may be spoken more starkly as “Why am I doing this at all?”. Now we can understand perhaps a little better why there is an implicit threat within such a question. For here, we are not being asked to design a better means of accomplishing the same or similar end, as the applied scientist or technician is so asked, but rather to imagine a different, perhaps better, end in itself. And when we ask this much more radical question, everything else opens right up. Not, ‘why do I have to go to school?’, but instead ‘Why are there schools at all?’, ‘What is the purpose of schooling and why this purpose?’ ‘Why reproduce what we already know?” Why be the people that we have already been?’ ‘Why believe in what our ancestors believed?’, ‘Why is our society something that must be defended?’, ‘Why do I imagine that I am superior to others?’ ‘What is the truer nature of truth?’.

            There is no space within the formal social fabric wherein such questions as these even get voiced, let alone seriously discussed. It may seem a risky, even reckless, condition to be in; to promote a society or a culture that seeks only the expansion of its present guise, the reproduction of its current values, and the conversion of all infidels who might range against its destiny. But it was the same in Socrates’ day. The Athenians, and the Greeks more widely, held that they were the only culture of value in existence; that they were by default the chosen people, and all others mere ‘barbarians’. And even some of the greatest minds of the Hellenistic period following Plato kept up this charade, including Aristotle himself. The thinker is still a child of his time, yes, but by engaging in authentic dialogue and serious reflective thought, he begins to realize that his assumptions are often mistaken, especially about others to self. Young people the world over exist, momentarily, in a cultural space which is liminal. No longer children, not quite adults, ‘youth’ in all times and places since the beginning of mass civilizations experience something quite palpably that in no other life-phase is as menacing to their persons. That experience is one of doubt.

            Because the only other time we experience existential doubt is while we are dying, we arrive at the space of radical doubt either too early – the teenager can do little enough to push her doubts to the level of social revolution or even social critique – or too late – one is about to become permanently absent from the human experience – doubt as a force of being must be accessed in some other manner. Fortunately, and thanks to the Pre-Socratics and Socrates specifically, we do have this other means at our disposal, if we would only use it. For it is through philosophical doubt, the ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’, as Paul Ricoeur called it, upshifting itself into an ‘effective historical consciousness’, as his hermeneutic German counterpart Hans-Georg Gadamer had it, that a human being can practice doubt as a matter of course throughout the life course. And it truly is a practice, not unlike some other regular set of actions taken in light of other aspects of our human health, such as yoga, meditation, or even diet. To regularly engage in reflection charged with a reasoned doubt which is not sourced in either neurosis or common anxieties, is to begin to alter one’s consciousness of not only what society is and is made of, but also about what is; that is, of our shared existence and equally so, our possible shared fate.

            But to do so, and especially to do so publicly and with others is not without its patent and potent risks. And to deliberately do so by engaging young people is fraught with positive danger, as Socrates so discovered. I myself have encountered the signs of this danger. For in invoking suspicion directed against social institutions and their agents, it is to be absolutely expected that suspicion of oneself will be directed right back. Since I retired from my professorship and chairpersonship in a large university setting, I have been summarily rejected by the schools, by NPOs and NGOs that sponsor youth activities, by publishers too concerned about the commercial repute of their catalogues to publish my work, refused by a library which stated that the content of my fiction was ‘unsuitable’ for youth – even though it was written for that audience and the UK publisher itself suggested an age range of 14-24 – and no news media will publish my editorials. I have had civil servants tell me quite uncivilly that my ideas are not welcome in ‘their’ public institutions, and even had the police called on me for handing out my business card to a parent walking with her teenage child. And while I hope I am not naïve about the improbability of being assassinated by the latter-day State, at least, I am struck by the marshaling of focused forces, the circling of proverbial wagons, ‘all the king’s horses’ and so on, in the face of a lone social critic who sees himself as well as an advocate for youth.

            Par for the course, you might reply. Now you know that you truly are who you think you are. On one side, being off to one side suits the sensibility of the philosopher. A part of her reimagines herself as aloof to the petty influence of unthought, immune to the ‘insolence of officials’ and beyond the ‘slings and arrows’ both. But on the other, this aspect of the thinker is her most inauthentic selfhood. For thought is in fact the birthright of all human beings, and the philosopher represents merely a portal for others to step through; an entrance, and perhaps a momentary guide, to the wider world of the history of consciousness in its entirety, no matter its source. And yet even this is too sentimental a summary of what the philosopher does, who she is as a being in the world. No, in all honesty, the thinker dares the world to think for itself. She utters the Ursprach which sounds the hollow idols and pronounces the death of gods. He tells his fellow human, ‘What you hold most dear, I will destroy it! What you know of love, I will betray it! What you feel is most sacred, I will desecrate it unto death! You will no longer know yourself after you speak with the likes of me; you will instead be confronted by a new kind of being, a novel truth, a culture from which you are the newly estranged.’

            Is it any wonder then, that few people have the courage to engage in the regular practice of philosophical doubt. And this even more strikingly, given the fact that one doesn’t really need the philosopher to help with such a practice, at least, not in any consistent and continuing manner. For each of us, possessed of a consciousness which is a creation of reason and imagination alike, knows at some deep level that who and what they are, who and what they have been, is at the least not all they can be, and so their culture and so their history. All I can do, all I have done, promotes this other way of coming to grips with existence. And so I will continue to corrupt our youth in any way I can. I am a philosopher; its what I do.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 55 books in ethics, education, religion, social theory, aesthetics and health, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

The Third Brother Grim

The Third Brother Grim

            As a co-founder of a for-profit, I understand the longitudinal convenience of brand loyalty. For an entrepreneur, this is the truer stuff of legend; can something created for one demographic and in one time period, be sold to another, however distant? Changing tastes, also heavily influenced by market and shill, but also perhaps more authentically, changing distastes, most often combine to dislodge once highly successful franchises or products. To overcome this, certain ideals might themselves have to be elbowed aside. In the case of Roald Dahl, the ideal of original, creative work, untouched by the vicissitudes of times contrived and contradictory.

            Now I don’t write children’s books. And even the games our software company has released or designed are not specifically for the youngest consumers. And I know I would react with a grave sense of offense if anyone cast censorious opprobrium upon any of my solo or joint works. Indeed, I have already done so, in the thus far only moment wherein an official person has come into direct contact with my YA novels. A public librarian refused to stock any of them citing their ‘challenging themes’ for youth. Yes, this is why I wrote them in fact. This minor tempest could have been a publicity moment for our brand and our company, perhaps, and may still be, but in business timing is everything. Even so, the real reason behind censorship of all kinds is not so much that people’s moral scruples might be slighted, but rather that the organization in question, both public or private, fears loss of franchise. For the for-profit, this might end in foreclosure, and for the public sector, proverbial heads might roll.

            And speaking of rolling heads, torture devices, Dickensian terribles and Lewis Carroll look-alikes, Dahl represents both the epitome and compendium of all of the nasty-minded fairy tales with which adults have cautioned their children. Anthropologists have long recognized that the social function of the children’s story is social control. This is why, as a critical philosopher who heeds our guild’s apical ancestor’s ethic of ‘corrupting youth’ – the very charge leveled against Socrates by the Athenian state and for which he was executed by same – my books for young people exhort them to overturn, indeed, vanquish the norms which bind them, including the hollow idols of the sacred. But such tales for today’s world contradict, in a most calculated manner, the general function of youthful literature. When I read the tepid books on the banned lists in American school districts, I have to confess to a smirk; they ain’t seen nothing yet!

            But as a reactionary, Roald Dahl exudes the wider English Vice. He was an anti-Semite, an absurdist, a blender and bleeder of Dada and Da-da, and a narrator who took precious and precocious pleasure in subjecting children to abusive scenarios. His books, replete as they are with a leering lasciviousness that makes Norman Rockwell’s Mayberry attempts at child pornography quite gentle by comparison, are hardly to be affected by some revisions, ‘minor and cosmetic’, as their publisher has recently announced. But this is not the main point. Dahl, and almost every other author of the children’s genre, seeks to blunt the wonder and wit the child brings to the adult world, just as most YA fiction seeks to refocus ‘in a positive manner’ the critique which the adolescent brings to it. The child is told, ‘the world is absurd, arbitrary, and thus have a care’. And the youth is told ‘just wait long enough and you will be in control; you’re in training for such as we speak’. Far from being concerned about calling someone ‘fat’ or ‘crazy’, a truly astute readership of today will rather note that the essence of how we socialize our children is through violence, mostly symbolic in cultured spaces, still mostly physical in those barbaric. It is the very passing off of barbarism as if it were culture that is the real scandal of authors like Dahl.

            The use of violence to raise young people is in turn the root cause of why our shared adult world remains itself so violent. And of late it seems to be getting worse. Wealth disparities, warfare, crippling expenses for arms, the tools of violence, and governments washing their perennially stained palms of social justice and responsibility alike, regress all of us into an unwanted second childhood. Or perhaps we have never quite left it. For who speaks when books like Dahl’s are revised? Do we hear the voices of those to whom they are targeted? And would we listen if we perchance ever did? No, it is editors, famous authors, even prime ministers who speak yay or nay. On the one side, those who seek to maintain the genres ‘original’ time-tested edge; on the other, those who desire this edge to adapt to their own changing sensibilities of what will work; that is, what will maintain their petty and altogether unworthy family fiefdoms. This alone should tell us that the true fans of children’s literature are the adults who wield it as the weapon it was ever crafted to be.

            All those who celebrate Dahl and like children’s literature are, in essence, voyeuristic sadists and pseudo-pedophiles. Revise away, then! Keep the phantasmagorical piety of filial love plunged eye-deep in the colorful spectacle of a violent theatre of the absurd. Keep telling our human future that the adult world is no place for wonder and trust, compassion and care. And to all those who pine for the days when adults could beat their children with a rod, take heart; simply use a book instead.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of fifty-five books in ethics, education, health, aesthetics, and social theory, and more recently, fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

What is ‘Freedom of Expression’?

What is ‘Freedom of Expression’?

            Ah, Professor Peterson. I feel for you. Sort of. I myself have been branded by a seemingly narrow and intolerant vision. After hosting a series launch for my YA fantasy adventure saga ‘Kristen-Seraphim’, an 11 volume 5500 page epic, one of our local public libraries refused to actually stock the books, even though they were to be a donation. At first the librarian objected that their content was overmuch for young readers in contrast to the publisher, and so I simply replied, ‘stick them in your adult section then’. Of course the most tenuous excuses were thence trotted out, including lack of space for a such a large work, that there hadn’t been enough reviews in the press, my publisher was third rate, or perhaps it was because I wasn’t truly a local author, having moved from the West to East coasts relatively recently. Whatever was in the librarian’s mind, none of my books is yet held by any local library in spite of almost four thousand such holdings worldwide.

            Well, I can see that there might be a few prudish old maids out there who might in turn imagine that a teenager reading about the murder of God (and the Devil, to be fair), by a motley crew of teenage heroes, one of whom is addicted to violence, another to herself, three having been abuse victims and four who are in lesbian partnerships might be a tad hard on youthful psyches. Reality, in other words, is sometimes tough to take, and both for readers and authors alike. Jordan Peterson is himself now finding this out, and perhaps for the first time. On the one hand, any professional body by definition has the right to rule upon its membership. Such organizations are not themselves above any charter or constitution but rather they stand alongside it, issuing their own relatively autonomous edicts and drafting their own codes of conduct that reflect and sometimes refract the wider legal conditions. Peterson’s lot is no different from anyone who belongs to a professional society, indeed, considers themselves to be professional at all. If I, as a professor for a quarter century, spent some of my class time explaining not ethics or art but rather how ‘hot’ this or that female student was, I would be guilty of a serious breach not only of professional conduct, but also of authentic pedagogy.

            But this is the most obvious side of it. In contrast, and in oblique and partial defense of Peterson and all those like him, if I declared Bruckner to be a superior composer to Tchaikovsky and Hitler to be a better painter than either Churchill or Charles III, does this mean I am guilty of being a Nazi or that I would turn the Tchaikovsky museum into a motorcycle repair shop, as did the SS at the time? Indeed, the fact that I have some small reputation as a philosopher in aesthetics might lend some cantor to such judgments and those like them. And the fact that I’ve written plenty about art, politics, ethics and education might lend still more. Even so, at the end of the day, it is still an opinion, no matter how rationally argued or contrarily, merely rationalized. But it is elsewise when it comes to denigrating or favoring a specific other for non-rational reasons, such as giving out the best grade to the ‘hottest’ student.

            And speaking of beauty, the woman on the cover of a popular magazine would indeed be considered beautiful by many disparate rubrics, including those Polynesian, that Odyssean – think Calypso – and that of Rubens and Gauguin, both better painters than Hitler. But even if Peterson was another Kenneth Clark we shouldn’t truly care what he thinks about the female form. Nor does it matter what he thinks about the simple process of language change over time. Language changes by and through its use by people in the world, and if personal pronouns no longer fit the bill for some people so be it. Like perceptions of beauty, perceptions of selfhood change over time, and one must engage in a serious philosophical disquisition of how this or that alteration might effect the wider human psyche or at the very least, how it offers further insight into it. The point is, is that by making such statements as have been reported in the press, Peterson has consistently engaged in unprofessional conduct. This doesn’t matter at the level of person – you’re free to say and think what you want as long as others are not threatened; that said, the difference between merely taking offense and actually feeling threatened has, of course, been blurred of late – but it very much does matter if one is a member of a profession that pledges to help all people no matter their backgrounds or self-perceptions.

            All of us must police ourselves with regard to our behavior, both publicly and privately. Does this mean we all live in the Fourth Reich? No, we rather simply live in a society, with others, within institutions, and dependent upon all of the succor of the social contract. This is a large chunk of what it means to be human, and that hasn’t changed one iota since the primordial days of our most distant ancestors. By all means, exert social change for the better, but equally so, if you want to mouth off about petty issues in a correspondingly petty way and there are professional bodies that sanction against such pettiness, take my ‘advice’ and don’t join them.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of fifty-five books in ethics, aesthetics, education, health, religion and social theory, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades and may be reached at viglion@hotmail.com.

The Misplaced Love of the Dead

The Misplaced Love of the Dead

            We can be said to have a future as long as we are unaware that we have no future – Gadamer

                All those who yet live must accept both the happenstance of their birth and the necessity of their death. Though we are not born to die, but rather to live, living is an experience which is very much in the meanwhile, for the time being, in the interim, even of the moment, pending global context and possible crisis. We neither ask to be born nor do we ask to die, as Gadamer has also reminded us. And beyond this, these are the truer existential conditions which connect us with all other human beings, not only our living contemporaries, but also the twice honoured dead. Birth and death overtake all cultural barriers, and thence undertake to be the furtive guides which travel alongside us during that wondrous but also treacherous intermission between inexistences.

            It is a function of the basic will to life that generates both the shadow of ressentiment, especially towards youth, as well as the orison of immortality as an ideal and now, more and more a material goal. Indefinite life, a more modest version of the same will, is nonetheless radical to the species-essential experience of coming to understand human finitude. It is not enough to comprehend finiteness, as with the limits of bodily organicity, including the gradual breakdown of the brain. Because we humans are gifted with the evolutionary Gestalt of a consciousness beyond mere sentience and instinct, forward-looking and running along ahead of itself in spite of knowing its general end, we have to come to grips, and then to terms, with a more subtle wisdom; that of the process of completion.

            Dasein is completed in mine ownmost death. Heidegger’s existential phenomenology is clearly also an ethics, and a profound one, and if it is somewhat shy of the conception of the other, as Buber has duly noted, it is not quite fair to say on top of this, that it is also at risk for fraud regarding death, as Schutz declared. Such ‘phoniness’, as reported by Natanson, might be felt only insofar that death is in fact the least of our living worries, especially in the day to day. Poverty, illness, alienation, loneliness, victimization, illiteracy, hunger, all these and others authentically occupy our otiose rounds and do not, in their feared instanciation, immediately prompt us to meditate upon the much vaunted ‘existential anxiety’. Rather they compel us to act in defence of life, our own and perhaps that of others as well. So it is also part of the will to life that we truly fear such umbrous outcomes and it is commonplace to second-guess many of the decisions we thus make in our personal lives with the sole purpose of maintaining an humane equilibrium.

            But what if this balancing act breaks apart, even for a moment? For eight young women in Toronto, possessed of only the beginnings of self-understanding and equipped with none of the perspective that only living on for perhaps decades more begrudgingly bequeaths to any of us, the fragile balance of common humanity, the ounce of compassion for every weighty pound of passion, the spiritual eagle who pecks at our conscience rather than our liver, fell away. The result was the death of a much older man, needless and therefore almost evil in its import. No matter the intent, no matter the force, no matter the loyalty nor the rage, neither the desperation nor the anxiety, none of these things can vouchsafe such an act. Even so, for the rest of us, we must be most alert to not feeling so much love for the dead that we forget what the living yet require of us. That one is dead must be recognized as not even tragic, for there was no noble drama being played out. It was rather an absurdity, an intrusion upon not only civility but also upon human reason itself. That eight live on, now to be shipwrecked for a time on a hardpan atoll of their own making, is in fact where the call to conscience next originates.

            These young women clearly need our help and guidance if they are to honour the death of the one who was denied the remainder of his own challenging life. This is a far wider point for any who live in the midst of a history which is at once my own but as well so abstracted and distanciated from me that I am regularly compelled to relinquish any direct control over events or even of the knowledge of the human journey emanating from just yesterday, let alone of remote antiquity. I have no doubt that for all eight, real remorse mixed with a sullen distemper is disallowing sleep. For even if ‘the murderer sleeps’, as Whitman reminded us, the character of her sleep is not quite the same as is our own. It is thus the burden which falls upon the rest of us to help the newly-made pariah back into the human fold, for it was her original alienation from that succor which was the root cause of her vacant evil.

            In doing so, we must also remind ourselves that on the one hand, such a death could have been my own, but yet more importantly, and on the other, that I too might have killed if I had been in similar circumstances, young and enraged, desperate and anxious, alienated but in utter ignorance of the worldly forces which are the sources of my stunned and stunted condition. And in the meanwhile my wealthy peers attend yet Blytonesque private schools and though they look like me and consume the same popular culture as me and are fetishized alike by adults whose leers I must endure each day, they might as well be of a different species entire. And all the more so now that I have killed.

            Would not the parents of the privileged also kill to defend their lots? Would I, speaking now in my real self, not kill to protect my family? What is the threshold of the needless? Where do we make our stand and state with always too much unction that this death was justified and this one was not? Why would someone attack my family? Why would someone offend privilege? Why would eight young women attack an utter stranger? For the living, upon whom our love both depends and is called forth daily, this is the time to ask the deeper questions whose responses shall expose our shared and social contradictions. For the misplaced love of the dead serves ultimately only the self-interest of those who are content with the world of the living insofar as it continues to privilege they and them alone. The misplaced hatred of the others, including these eight young people, serves only as a decoy for our self-hatred and self-doubt, charged with the background radiation which is the simmering knowing that we have strayed so far from our ideals that such dark acts are not only possible but have indeed occurred.

            The only way to prevent their recurrence is to work actively for a just society, an ennobled culture, a compassionate individual, a responsible State. Those who need our love in the highest sense of the term are those who have acted in a manner that shows that they are themselves outside of human love. That each of us may descend to such inhumanity must remain the patent frame in which the love we proffer to all those affected by this event is rendered. Do not love the dead, do not hate the living. I will be the one but I am yet the other. I do not stand with the victim for he now stands beyond all human ken. Rather, however uncomfortably and even ironically, I must stand with the criminals, because they are faced with the same challenges as am I myself; to regain each day the highest expression of the will to life in spite of any descent the past has conferred upon us.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of fifty-five books in ethics, education, health and social theory. He has worked with alienated youth for three years and for a quarter century before taught thousands of young people through transformative and experiential learning. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades in both Canada and the USA. He may be reached at viglion@hotmail.com

Christians in Drag

Christians in Drag

            One can be forgiven, to use a word advisedly, if one imagines that drag story times held in libraries was merely someone’s witty nod to Eric Idle’s similar Monty Python sketch. In it, he begins numerous children’s tales only to find that the illustrated book he is reading from contains very much adult content – “with a melon?!” – and is thus forced to stop and resume again and again. But in fact such scenes are now commonplace in North American public libraries and aside from the historical smirk with which they are due, one could also be forgiven for forgetting about it entirely.

            Not so for self-proclaimed Christians and other neo-conservatives, who have openly attacked these potentially charming events as offenses against the proper rearing of said children. In a world of their imagination, such critics take gender to be binary, children to be gullible and easily manipulated, queer, transgendered and other non-binary self-identities to be sins against nature, and librarians to be liberals with such open minds that their proverbial brains have fallen out.

            With great irony, the person who claims Christianity aloud fails to note that it his own religion that gave birth in the West to the very ideas these story times teach. Compassion, tolerance, forbearance, the accepting of difference – come as you are – and an ethic of love thy neighbor and thy enemy alike. Indeed, any activity that is centered around these ideas, as all those who hold such drag story times claim in contrast to their opponents, could quite easily be taken for as authentically Christian. The fact that those with alternate gender identities tend to see religion of all kinds as a source of enmity against them argues that they too are mistaking the essential nature of Christianity and other related world faiths.

            The radical character of Christian ethics cannot be understated. In the West, before these ideas slowly took hold over specific echelons of the Roman Empire, an out-group member was perceived without exception as a threat if not an outright enemy, and he was treated as such. Along with the earlier advent of Buddhism in the East, anyone who today even merely acknowledges another human being as like herself and thus not necessarily a threat or yet an enemy owes their entire posture to Christianity. The ‘liberal’ librarians and the transgendered readers and teachers and the interested children are all much more Christian than perhaps many of them would be willing to admit.

            And their opponents equally much less so. They too would shy away from admitting as much, but the ethical reality speaks for itself. Prejudice against difference is not a Christian idea, but rather something that animated all cultures in all places before the presence of Buddhism and Christianity. In that prior world, bigotry is understood as compelling and automatic, which is why the parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’ still speaks to us today. First of all, Samaritans, whoever they might have been, were not commonly regarded as ‘good’. Second, the very idea that one should help a stranger who is also and always a potential enemy is seemingly contradictory to our human ‘instinct’. Third, that we should in the end ‘go and do likewise’ is an affront to all good taste and social status. But the ‘reader’ of this parable was not concerned with reproducing bigotry, but rather countering it, and in the most unheard of way imaginable.

            In attacking drag story times, a self-professed defender of Christianity is actually regressing into a pre-Christian state. It is a common error to mistake the trees of content for the forest of form. In content, various scriptures from the world’s religions appear distanced from our best selves, often describing and reproducing the very bigotries that the new ideas are meant to overcome. It does not help matters that the early Roman church bound together two very different belief systems in one book; the Judaic texts being pre-Christian and thus relatively susceptible to specifically more narrow customs and the tradition of self-preservation. It is also not at all the case that all librarians are open to radical ethics of any kind. I myself have been refused, and as a local author, space on public shelves due the content of my fictional works. And while I have very nominally cross-dressed from time to time on affectionate dares from women with whom I have been intimate – ‘you know, you’d look great in tights’, that sort of thing – I am neither a Christian nor a drag queen. But like those who criticize the apparent intolerance of certain fashionable ‘versions’ of Christianity, believing themselves to be beyond any suasion that this or other religions might yet hold over the modern world, I am misrecognizing myself.

            The reality of all ‘culture war’ conflicts that take the form of the drag story times falderal is simply that views which express the non-Christian sensibilities of blind prejudice, bigotry, and ignorance of others has seen its enemies take hold of the very thing these intolerant people claim for themselves – Christian ethics. No wonder they are so virulent in their vitriol! They claim they are being censored, that a space which is welcoming to all should by definition include them. But what they misrepresent – and I believe, intentionally so – is the fact that they are the ones who are bigoted and indeed practitioners of intense censorship in their homes, their parochial schools, and in their temples. A space open to difference cannot, by its own unmasked and far more honest definition, include anyone who does not themselves agree with the differences taking place within such spaces. An anti-bigot cannot admit the bigot along the same logic that no system of signs includes the sign that describes that system. The last bigotry must take hold against bigotry itself.

            If the opponent of difference is merely attempting to remind us that all differences are acceptable with the exception of the one that denies difference, then that is a motif for an introductory course in logic and little more. It has no merit as a political position, it has no ethical value. It misrecognizes itself as Christian or like persuasion while espousing anti-Christian sentiments, thus it also has no historical reality to it, much the same as almost all neo-conservative delusions. The rest of us, dressed as we are and comfortable in our genders, bland or otherwise, must in turn accept that we are the living representatives of the still radical ethics first broached in antiquities both East and West and that these humane ethics are evidently still very much nothing more, though also nothing less, than a work in progress.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of over fifty books in ethics, education, social theory, health and aesthetics, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over twenty years.